PLAN 74: Article
New Appointment: Michael Mittelman

Associate Director, Center for Advanced Visual Studies

Michael Mittelman has been appointed associate director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), succeeding Larissa Harris who joined the Queens Museum of Art in New York as curator last fall.

Mittelman is the founder of ASPECT: The Chronicle of New Media Art, a bi-annual DVD compilation of contemporary time-based art that highlights artists whose works are best documented in video or sound; before ASPECT’s founding in 2003, there was no affordable vehicle for widespread dissemination of such work.

Under the leadership of CAVS director Krzysztof Wodiczko, Mittelman will be responsible for day-to-day operations at the Center. He will also be working closely with Wodiczko and Ute Meta Bauer, Director of the Visual Arts Program, on facilitating the merger of the Center with the Visual Arts Program; the yet-to-be-named merged unit is scheduled to relocate to the expanded Media Lab facility on east campus during the 2010 academic year.

Mittelman is also beginning an effort to support the preservation and archiving of the work done at the Center since its founding in 1967, a body of work that he says represents a substantial share of the history of the art and technology movement. ‘So many galleries, so many artists, so many institutions in that world,’ he says, ‘can trace their origins back to the Center for Advanced Visual Studies’.

Making these innovative works accessible will create an important resource for artists and researchers. While the plan is to make some of the archival material available in 2010, it will take considerably longer to make the complete archive available for historical research and pedagogical study. But it is, says Mittelman, an important project of historical significance. ‘These genres cannot progress without understanding what’s happened before,’ he says. ‘The lack of such an historical record is actually holding the art world back, causing it to repeat itself.’

Another project on Mittelman’s list is to document the manifold collaborations that have been at the heart of so much of the artistic investigation done through the Center. ‘Contemporary art in new media is almost impossible to accomplish with one person acting alone,’ he says. ‘There are so many moving parts that collaboration is by default an integral part of the process. But little has been done to document those kinds of collaborations, or other aspects of the creative methodology. One realm of the Center’s research can be to document and publish that work.’

The Center for Advanced Visual Studies was established by Hungarian artist Gyorgy Kepes 42 years ago. Kepes, a collaborator of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, emigrated to the US in 1937 and first taught at the New Bauhaus in Chicago, and then at the Illinois Institute of Design alongside Mies van der Rohe, before accepting a tenured position in 1946 in MIT’s Department of Architecture.

Kepes’ vision was to connect art and technology to create art on a ‘civic scale’. Under the directorship of Otto Piene, who followed Kepes in 1974, CAVS pioneered the use of technologies such as lasers, plasma sculptures, sky art and holography as tools for artistic expression in public space.

Krzysztof Wodiczko led CAVS following Piene’s 1994 retirement, followed by Stephen Benton, who was director in the late 1990s. After Benton’s sudden death in 2003. Wodizcko again took over and, along with Larissa Harris, led CAVS in the direction of becoming a laboratory for interdisciplinary art practice and production, facilitating exchange between internationally known contemporary artists and MIT’s faculty, students and staff through public programs, support for long-term art projects and residencies for MIT students.

Visual Arts Program Director Ute Meta Bauer says that Mittelman’s work with ASPECT was a fitting background for his new role at MIT. ‘ASPECT provides a much needed tool for documentation and dissemination of time-based art. Mike has, to his credit, not only initiated ASPECT from scratch, but also kept it going in a professional way. Keeping its contents relevant, he has managed to position ASPECT as a valuable resource for art professionals, art educators and those interested in this field.

‘Mike also took charge of its strategic business plan, ensuring ASPECT would remain affordable and widely distributed. His understanding of the specific requirements of artistic practice, and of the way we represent it at MIT, combined with his ability to get things done, makes him a big asset for our efforts to develop the full potential of the visual and contemporary arts here.’

Born in New York City, Mittelman studied studio art at Wesleyan University and received an MFA from the Studio for Interrelated Media at the Massachusetts College of Art. Since then he has exhibited widely in the Boston area – including at the List Visual Arts Center and DeCordova Museum – and has taught at MassArt and Emerson College.

Before joining MIT, he was also Chief Architect at Hangout Industries, a Boston outfit devoted to creating new user experiences for teenagers and college students by leveraging new technologies to plug into Facebook and MySpace, providing a natural on-ramp to more engaging and immersive social and media experiences. For more information on Mittelman, visit http://www.aspectmag.com.